In this 11th installment of a mystery series, a private eye looks into a possible murder that may be linked to a drowning from nearly a half century ago.
Psychiatrist Dr. Linda Rhine is convinced her patient and friend Cynthia Power did not commit suicide. As cops refuse to investigate Cynthia’s death as a homicide, Rhine seeks help from another patient, Augusta Satin, an ex-detective who works with Davenport, Iowa, private investigator Bertrand McAbee. Cynthia had belonged to the Demosthenes Club in high school back in the 1960s. She’d recently been writing a book on the club, as its members have gone on to high-profile careers. But it seems one inebriated member, Illinois Congressman Corey Bladel, let slip something regarding Anne Podreski, the club member who died in a drowning accident before the group’s high school graduation. Certainly Francine Korbel, the retired chief economist for an agribusiness company, feared what Bladel had relayed to Cynthia. But was it enough for her or someone else to murder Cynthia? McAbee interviews club members and also delves into the dead woman’s past; in 1995, while Cynthia was living in Sarajevo, an unidentified shooter killed her lover, Toma Korpanja. Someone in the present day is apparently nervous and targets McAbee and his associates, including hacker Barry Fisk and former covert government man Jack Scholz. As in the preceding installment, McCaffrey’s (A Went Over Case, 2016, etc.) story boasts an unhurried pace. McAbee and his cohorts often walk away from interviews with no revelations or new pieces of evidence, generating a slow-burning mystery. Nevertheless, the author’s characters are striking, particularly suspects like Korbel, who’s rather shady without readers even knowing whether or not she’s a killer. Similarly, the good guys are sharp and flawed; McAbee’s secretary, Pat Trump, hates Fisk so much she threatens to quit, and the conflicted PI occasionally benefits from Scholz’s “violent tactics.” The final act ignites the narrative’s momentum with a solid plot turn and a satisfying wrap-up, in terms of both the murder and McAbee’s team.
Vivid characters populate a measured but engrossing detective story.
Pub Date: June 20, 2018
Page count: 344pp
Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019
In this thriller, a dying man hires private investigator Bertrand McAbee to find the whereabouts of his brother, missing for nearly 30 years.
ALS–stricken Patrick McNulty, with a mere month to live, needs help. The wealthy Fort Lauderdale, Florida, man contacts his former professor McAbee, now a private eye in Davenport, Iowa. McNulty wants to know what happened to his long-lost brother, Francis. Three years before his 1987 disappearance, Francis publicly “went over” at a Rotary Club meeting, humiliating his affluent father, Liam, by renouncing the material world. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, he devoted his life to assisting those in need before suddenly vanishing. An anonymous package containing a plush wolf (an apparent reference to St. Francis) convinces Patrick his brother’s alive, but the consensus among friends and associates is quite the opposite. McAbee and colleagues at his agency, including hacker Barry Fisk and ex-cop Augusta Satin, scour Francis’ history for clues. They may catch a break when they notice a possible link to the kidnapping/murder of young Bobby White, occurring around the same time that Francis disappeared. McAbee’s search takes him to Italy for just a sign of Francis, dead or alive, so that the detective can hopefully bring solace to a man on the verge of death. The story is dense with information, with McAbee and Augusta interviewing a plethora of characters, most of whom offer little insight into Francis’ fate. McAbee acknowledges the occasional repetitiveness: “I’ve heard many stories like this about him,” he relates, following a lengthy discussion about Francis. Pertinent evidence, however, does eventually accumulate, like some who are sure Francis had money stashed somewhere, leading to a worthy wrap-up. McCaffrey (A Case of Silver, 2013, etc.) keeps his mystery simple and, despite parallelism between McAbee the skeptic and Francis the believer, doesn’t saturate the story with religious allegory. Back in Davenport, meanwhile, there’s drama––Barry seems to hate everyone, most particularly McAbee’s secretary, Pat Trump, (a mutual animosity)––as well as humor, like Augusta designating this case as decidedly less dangerous than usual.
In his 10th outing, a steadfast gumshoe proves he can handle anything, even a story with a leisurely pace.
Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2016
Page count: 342pp
Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016
In the eighth Bertrand McAbee mystery, McCaffrey’s (The Marksman’s Case, 2008, etc.) classics professor turned detective returns to unearth the forgotten secrets of the Byzantine Empire.
Stricken with terminal cancer, elderly Greek–American Alexei Kostadelos entrusts McAbee with an unusual mission: travel to Mt. Athos in Greece to pry some sensitive information out of Father Nicholas, a reclusive monk. Years ago when Alexei and Nicholas fought together in the Greek resistance against the occupying Nazis, they discovered a secret about the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Is it possible that the Byzantine emperor was not killed in the famous siege but instead took to the underground? With Alexei dying and Nicholas old and frail, this history-changing revelation is in danger of being lost to time unless scholarly McAbee can uncover proof in the form of artifacts buried on the island of Lesbos. He finds assistance in Jack, a shady, paranoid former military operative he employs for dirty work and muscle, and in Alexei’s niece, Yota, a temperamental archaeology professor with whom McAbee develops a subtle flirtation. A mysterious German with a decades-old connection to Alexei and a shadowy group of Romanian monks complicate matters. The genial, bookish McAbee finds himself in a world of intrigue, ruthlessness and covert action, circumstances that add depth to his character. It also provides some low-key comic moments: McAbee has a habit of fretting over his supply of digestive cookies and wandering off to visit museums and relics that have nothing to do with his mission. Yet McAbee’s curiosity combined with his iron-willed determination makes it unwise to underestimate him. The book feels most alive when it’s firmly in McAbee’s wheelhouse—studying documents on Constantinople, noting with interest the intricacies of Greek history and national character, and delving into the murky relations between the monks at Mt. Athos. When the novel turns to Jack’s action-oriented area of expertise, things feel a bit more perfunctory. Even so, McCaffrey’s mystery thrills with well-drawn characters, solid procedural details and strong storytelling.
Historical intrigue and well-narrated suspense make this adventure an absorbing mystery.
Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2010
Page count: 316pp
Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012
Classy ex-classics professor Bertrand McAbee and his multicultural mystery-solving posse go the distance with a former military sniper turned vigilante in the fourth book of McCaffrey’s (A Byzantine Case, 2010, etc.) reliable detective series.
After a failed black op in Kuwait circa 2006, the arrogant, unstable Marine Sergeant Alex Love finally snaps. The sharpshooter’s increasingly violent outbursts result in a full honorable discharge at 100-percent disability for psychiatric reasons. Love’s career and reputation are ruined, and the rest of his life is, too, since he knows far too much about American covert activities in the Middle East to ever be free of government surveillance. So he decides to “die”—if only statistically. The calm yet delusional veteran carefully crafts an array of false identities before faking his death and becoming an avenging angel on a mission to rid the world of lowlife scum—including assorted criminals and pretty much anyone else he dislikes. Unlike the real-life, random 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, which this story in some ways recalls, Love specifically (and literally) targets his kills. By the novel’s midpoint, Love has 99 notches in his rifle’s stock and the police haven’t a clue. Enter professor-turned-PI McAbee, at the behest of a staple of detective fiction: a grieving widow. With his diverse crew of allies backing him up, each with useful skills involving brains, brawn and/or technological savvy, McAbee is soon on the trail of the assassin. Aficionados of the genre will adore the author’s clever handling of familiar tropes (including, for example, his depiction of a nerdy genius character with limited social skills). One highlight is the sassy, steely Augusta Satin, the canny detective’s protégé and possible love interest; with her on the scene, it’s easy to miss the multimillion-dollar cache of blood diamonds that becomes the focus of the plot.
An entertaining mystery, although not one for the gun-shy.
Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2008
Page count: 328pp
Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2013
Private eye Bertrand McAbee returns to his former profession to investigate missing persons at an Iowa university in this thriller.
The disappearance of Baden College student Tina Tallon won’t be handled quietly. Her parents, fuming over the university’s presumed lack of response, have called the authorities, a story the press quickly picks up. President Wilford Gregory believes it’s much worse than a missing student, linking Tina to three prior vanishings associated with Baden: a professor in 1985, a French student in ’89, and the school nurse in ’96. The college opts for bringing in classics professor–turned–private eye McAbee. Sure, he’ll teach courses for a semester, but he’s genuinely there to find a possible murderer among the faculty—or to eliminate them as suspects. McAbee and his colleagues back at the Davenport agency start with a list of 13 faculty members, eventually whittling it down to five, each with the opportunity to snatch the four victims. A local teen, meanwhile, stumbles upon a peculiar (and unsettling) scene in the woods and turns up missing, and another Baden affiliate inexplicably disappears as well. McAbee covertly interrogates the five men, while a killer’s perspective reveals the detective, now under the watchful eye of a disturbed individual, may be a little too close to the truth. The author hits the ground running with a resolute mystery. Readers are constantly updated with McAbee’s lists: the initial 13, profiles of the dubious 5, and even McAbee using a point system to list suspects by probable guilt. Deciding who’s the murderer (theoretically, since there are no bodies) isn’t easy, and McCaffrey (A Went Over Case, 2016, etc.) waits until the last 10 pages before finally identifying the culprit. Danger lurks throughout the narrative, with the killer siccing vicious dogs on McAbee and shadowing associates, including Augusta Satin. Subtlety is largely absent: the private eye’s questions about the disappearances make it obvious he’s fishing, and the story merely hints at Augusta’s love for the detective. But it’s hard to argue over the manner of investigation when McAbee and his crew get results—and a chance to continue the series.
An intelligent, intuitive detective who steers clear of guns in favor of a team of talented cohorts.
Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2005
Page count: 336pp
Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016
In this installment of the Bertrand McAbee Mystery series, the former classics professor and current private investigator is drawn into a cold case of theft and murder that spans generations and continents and finds roots in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
When a colleague dies on a lonely road late at night under questionable circumstances, McAbee’s investigation turns up links to local thugs, the Chicago Mafia and even World War I war criminals. And as he untangles the web, McAbee discovers that at the heart of it all lies a priceless, jewel-encrusted Hapsburg heirloom—commissioned by the Archduke himself and not seen in almost 100 years—that, incredibly, may be hidden away in the state of Ohio, or may not exist at all. McAbee, a likable, albeit conflicted protagonist, goes out of his way to defy the hardboiled gumshoe stereotype: he drinks nonalcoholic beer, eschews the advances of beautiful women and steadfastly refuses to carry a gun, even when faced with obvious mortal danger. Given all this, one might reasonably expect a cerebral sequence in which McAbee shows his detective chops and gathers evidence, utilizes all his powers of observation to connect the dots and solves the mystery while the police are still scrambling to keep up. Instead, McAbee calls in a crack team of former SEALs to illegally and brutally torture information out of suspects by administering shocks to their nether-regions. He gets answers, but Sherlock Holmes he is not—this solution feels a bit unsatisfying and contrived. The hypocrisy is glaring, and one character briefly calls him out on it, but the reader never gets a straight answer about this contradiction, or an explanation of why an aging college professor has ready access to a torture-happy version of the A-Team. In McAbee we have a hero who won’t carry a gun for moralistic reasons, yet has no problem outsourcing torture. Despite this uneven characterization, McCaffrey (Scholarly Executions, 2005, etc.) keeps the plot moving at a good clip, ramping up tension while McAbee manages the diverse and bickering group of characters that comprises his investigative team. While the story takes place in the present day, the author utilizes flashbacks with several characters to 1914 pre-war Austria, 1920s Italy and the gangland Chicago of the ’40s to gradually parcel out all the clues. The pre-WWI historical background and international intrigue distinguish this gripping and at times addictive mystery from the standard whodunits.
Pub Date: July 25, 2005
Page count: 307pp
Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012
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